Teaching Children the Fourth Commandment

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

For  those who wish to use some of the ideas below for teaching your children or Sunday School pupils, I recommend you read the previous two posts on the Fourth Commandment, if you have not done so already, for background information on the Fourth Commandment.

Based upon that material, my lesson ideas spring from the following interpretations:

a) The “sabbath day” is a time to drop our worldly activities and turn our thoughts to God. We are also to allow others under our control to have the time for rest, as well.

b) The Sabbath can be a day, an hour, or even a moment, if during that time we find our peace and rest in God’s presence and comfort.

c) We must have earned our rest through righteous activity governed by God, good.

d) The Sabbath has both literal and spiritual meanings. In Christian Science, we find in Mary Baker Eddy’s writings many statements relating to work and rest, and our oneness with the divine Principle, God.

Children who attend Sunday School are familiar with the fellowship of church, and they can easily see they are participating in one form of “remembering the sabbath.” But, what about those families who do not attend church, for one reason or another? Do children have to feel that if they belong to a non-church going family that they cannot be obedient to God’s commandment? Or, what should they think if “dad” prefers to golf on Sunday rather than attend church with the rest of the family? Should they be critical of that parent? No. In Christian Science, at least, we can find many statements in the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, and in the life and words of Jesus and Paul, that support the point that attending a particular church or denomination is not necessary to be able to worship God, or to demonstrate the Fourth Commandment in our lives (refer back to my previous posts). Our cycle of work and “sabbath rest,” we learn in Christian Science, is a mental activity reflecting the operation of divine
Principle.

LESSONS FOR LITTLE CHILDREN:

Make sure your youngest children know what the terms “rest,” “remember,” and “holy” mean. Use a regular dictionary to give them basic meanings before exploring what the Commandment is telling us. You can give a simple Biblical explanation of the Sabbath Day, and how it was originally practiced by the Hebrews.

Little children can understand the idea of “work first, then rest,” or that we work hard to carry out a task, but check in with Mom or Dad to see if it is being done correctly, or to get help when we see we need it. For instance, here is a possible lesson for little children in Sunday School that might help to explain the concept of “work, then rest:”

STRAW AND STICKS — OR BRICKS?” This is what I’m calling a game you might play with young students. Most of them will be familiar with the story of “The Three Little Pigs.” (I’m not going to retell the whole story here to save space.) Ask the kids if they know the story, and then go over it briefly. Remind them that the pigs had to leave home and make their own way in the world. They needed to build their own houses to live in and no longer depend upon their mother’s support. But, they were also thrilled at their new freedom. Two of the pigs were so impatient to
get back to playing and having fun, that they did not take the time and effort to design and build a really strong home. One pig put together a poorly made house of straw, and the other one made a house of sticks. Sure enough, they were off having a good time right away. But the third pig was willing to work very hard to build a strong house that would withstand attacks from such bad things as hungry wolves and violent weather. So, he did put in all the extra work required, while his brothers laughed and played. When he was through building his house of bricks, that pig probably appreciated his well-earned rest. But, he did his work first.

We know from the story what happened when the wolf came. He was able to “huff and puff and blow” the house of straw and the house of sticks down. But he was not able to blow down the house of bricks. And that pig was saved — and perhaps saved his brothers, too, depending upon which version of the story you have!

Now, using this story, tell your students you will play a game of “straw and sticks — or bricks?” Tell them that we all have to build a strong “house” in our consciousness, or where we think our thoughts. We must use good thoughts, which are kind of like sturdy and long-lasting bricks. And we must devote time to this work of building our house of good thoughts and ideas. When we do this, we are putting in our “six days of work.” Then we can take a rest — our “sabbath day” — where we find freedom from worry and fear, and protection from our enemies, just as the third little pig did.

Then tell the kids that in the game to be played, they will have to decide whether a certain activity or way or thinking is building their house with “straw and sticks — or bricks.” If the activity seems frivolous or worthless or sinful, then it would be “straw and sticks.” If the activity or thinking is a good and solid one, based upon intelligence, love, or truth, etc., then they would be building with “bricks.”

For instance: “watching cartoons all Saturday morning” (straw and sticks) — or “helping Mom do some chores” (bricks) — “Doing a good deed for a friend or sibling” (bricks) — or “stealing an extra cookie after being told not to take any more” (straw and sticks) — “getting homework done before it is due” (bricks) — “handing in homework only half done and with a poor excuse” (straw and sticks) — “telling a lie” (straw and sticks) — “apologizing for hurting someone” (bricks), etc. You get the point. Perhaps have the children come up with their own ideas to suggest. After mentioning an activity or quality of thought, ask them: “is this building our ‘house’ with straw and sticks — or bricks?”

Remind them that this gives us an idea about the Fourth Commandment. We have work to do on earth — God has given each of us a mission. We must do our work, including prayer daily. Then, we need to take time to check in with God, and hand things over to Him. We need to spend time thinking about Him, and not ourselves. We must remember to thank God for His blessings, and we must remember that we want to continue to work hard to be obedient to Him and to help destroy the evils of the world.

On a more practical level, tell them that the idea of working before playing or resting gives us a feeling of satisfaction and confidence, and we appreciate our times of rest and recreation more when we have earned it. If their parents have asked them to clean their room, isn’t it better to do it without complaint, and not worry that Mom or Dad might get upset with them for not doing it, rather than resist it hour after hour, or day after day, and then have to deal with the wrath of our parents?

LESSONS FOR OLDER CHILDREN

Depending upon the age and interest of your children or pupils, you might wish to go over the historical background of the Jewish sabbath and how it evolved by the time of Jesus. Some might be interested in how the Christian’s “Lord’s Day” and the Jewish sabbath become “one,” as briefly explained in the previous posts.

The following paragraphs contain a number of suggestions to get you started on a variety of ways to explore the Fourth Commandment with various age groups:

Ask your pupils to read the following statement in the Manual of The Mother Church on page 60, where Mrs. Eddy writes: “A Christian Scientist is not fatigued by prayer, by reading the Scriptures or the Christian Science textbook. Amusement or idleness is weariness. Truth and Love rest the weary and heavy laden.”

Would they agree or disagree with Mrs. Eddy’s assessment that “amusement or idleness is weariness.” Ask them to explain. Ask how this statement might support the Fourth Commandment.

For Christian Science students, ask them to consider the fact that the Quarterly Bible Lesson Sermon contains six sections that we are to study and work on during the week, and then it is read to the congregation on Sunday. Is it possible Mrs. Eddy had the “six days of work” and a Sabbath rest in mind when she devised this system? Can we think of it that way?

There are several instances of Jesus going up to a mountain or to the desert to pray alone. This was usually after a busy period of healing or teaching. Note, that he would stay long enough to find refreshment, or guidance, and that he would return to the multitudes and their needs. Have your students read these, and discuss the worth of getting a balance of work and rest — both in our regular physical labors and our spiritual, mental work.

On a previous post, I listed a few citations from the writings of Mrs. Eddy relating to “work and rest.” There are many more to be found if you search the Concordances for her writings. These can be used in your discussions along with appropriate Bible verses.

Use your Bible concordance to find the stories relating to Jesus and the Pharisees and their criticism of his activities on Sabbath days. Show that, although Jesus did attend a local synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath, he did not go along with the interpretations that would make the Sabbath more burdensome than other days of the week. Ask how these ideas might apply to our mental work in Christian Science.

In my book, “First Lessons in Christian Science, Volume One: The Ten Commandments” (found elsewhere on this web site) I have a number of ready-made lessons on the Fourth Commandment in which the concepts of harmony, reflection, completeness, and heaven are explored and how they relate to our “Sabbath” moments or days. Research these words in a Concordance (or the computer program Concord) and have your students or children study citations that might show what the reward of our “work” might bring in the way of peace and harmony.

In an earlier post, I mentioned Mrs. Eddy’s reference to the walls of Jericho, and how the Hebrews marched around the walls for six days. Have your pupils read this story in the Bible, and then show them Mrs. Eddy’s comments. Ask how she might have come up with this interpretation, and how they might use this in their life.

Let your pupils or children know that different families and churches, “remember the sabbath day” in a variety of ways. We are not to judge anyone. Show them Paul’s statement on this. We do not know what is in a person’s heart. Just because people do not share our religious beliefs or practices, does not mean they are not honoring God in their own way. Trust that divine Love will lead all Her children “back home.”

Ask questions that would explore this idea: a Sabbath can be any day, or any hour, or minute, or moment — when we turn away from our activities, or our struggles with mortal mind beliefs — and seek solace in Truth and Principle.

A practical idea for your students to use can be found in this statement in Science and Health:

“Our heavenly Father, divine Love, demands that all men should follow the example of our Master and his apostles and not merely worship his personality. It is sad that the phrase divine service has come so generally to mean public worship instead of daily deeds.” (S&H 40)

Show them that doing good deeds daily, rather than making a public show of attending church once a week, is what God wants us to do. This is following the example of Jesus, and he is our Master and Wayshower. Ask the pupils if they are ready to agree with this, and whether or not this means we should not go to church at all. How might an individual decide what is the best way to put this statement into practice? Bear in mind the Fifth Commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” How can minors balance their emerging spiritual concepts with their parents’ preferences for church (or non-church) attendance and membership.

“The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  (Mark 2:23)

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